Controlling Perfect

I was standing in the frozen vegetable aisle, unseeing. Instead of looking through the glass doors at green beans, peas, spinach – I was looking at the glass doors and the mirror of myself. An argument was waging in my head; not about what vegetables to buy, but about the items I held in my hands. A loaf of French bread. A triangle of Brie. A frozen premade flatbread.

The attack was quick and fierce. One side of my mind screamed at me that I’d already been here yesterday, for a bottle of chocolate milk. I didn’t need to buy Brie and French bread, for heavens sake. The chocolate milk was fatty enough. Besides, the Brie was expensive! How could you be here spending MORE money?

I stared at the items in my hands, feeling torn. The flatbread had a purpose; food for when I returned from vacation. The Brie and bread were seducing me, especially that Brie. I had recently discovered how magical it was and I wanted more. I literally felt it staring at me, blinking at me with wide seductive lashes and a come hither grin. “At least it’s not the gallon of ice cream on sale that I was just looking at,” I argued with myself. “That would be much more senseless and unhealthy.” I thought about my refrigerator and cupboards at home. “What do I have there?” I wondered. I saw the pasta boxes, the spinach ready to be turned into pesto, the jars of red sauce in my refrigerator, the tortilla chips, cheddar, and jalapenos. “Nachos and pasta,” I thought. I could make them, sure. Were they exciting? Not really. I was uninspired by them. And it did seem such a small array of things that I had.

“But you don’t have a ton of money just to be throwing around on a whim!” screamed the other voice in my head. “You need to be thoughtful about this!” Let’s be honest, it got meaner than that, too. “You fat cow! You can’t stop buying sweet and fatty things. Why, just earlier this week you bought ice cream! And last night chocolate milk, which is already half gone. And now Brie! What are you doing to yourself, idiot!”

The argument went back and forth for ten minutes. I exchanged the flatbread for a full pizza (it lasts 2 meals, not just one) and a bag of frozen green beans. At least my meals could be balanced, and when I came home from vacation, I could plan a healthier, more inspired menu.

When I got home from the store, I felt frustrated, down, upset. But a voice in my head said, “Courageous. You are courageous. Be a little more kind to yourself. You grew up in a family with delusional ideas about money. It’s hard work to try something different. You’re not going to be perfect all the time, and that’s okay.”

It was then that I thought of something a friend said the other day, “I can’t control someone else but I can control how perfect I am.” Oh, that struck me. Here I was, trying to be perfect, trying so hard not to be crazy.

I can’t control my dad’s crazy, but I can control how perfect I am, so it’s okay.

I’m having an epiphany. My life has been this controlled little ball of rigidity and rules, not only because that’s how I grew up, but now because that’s who I have become. I am trying so hard to go against the grain and be different. I have to be better. I have to matter. I have to be perfect, so everyone will think I’m okay.

I’m at a loss at how to change this line of thinking, this way of living that leaves my stomach in knots when I think about food, money, my grades, grad school, relationships.

I guess that’s why I need a Higher Power.

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Rhythms

The past 2 days have been “down days” for me. I’ve been trying to keep track of when I feel depressed, to get an idea if there’s a rhythm or flow to it. It seemed to have more of a PMDD feel to it; but this isn’t PMDD. I’m wondering if it cycles every 2 weeks or so, because that’s what it’s starting to look like.

In part, I know it’s because I’m overwhelmed. Having finals, and then starting an intense 2 week class right after might not have been the best idea for me. But it seemed better to me than taking a class on Saturdays all semester.

I’m also really struggling on my self care. What doesn’t help is that I’m having to dip into my emergency savings until I get my summer student loans. So I feel insecure about money, too. It’s somewhat without reason, because I do have other savings built up for myself besides the emergency savings. But I’d really like to use that savings to go on another trip, not to live on.

Yet, I can’t decide if I should be using it right now for self care.

I really need to be doing yoga on a more consistent basis. I notice that it makes a massive difference in my mental state. If anything, I need to buy a yoga membership. It doesn’t make sense to buy it this week though when I’m going on vacation next week.

I am also realizing that I don’t feel like my life is fun. I go a lot of places alone and I don’t like it. I find myself at coffee shops, alone. I hike alone. It’s really kind of sucky. I want to find more fun things to do with other people. I’ve been meaning to go to City Rock and climb. I really need to work on having fun; I just don’t do it enough. And it needs to involve other people besides me.

It seems like life is always like this. I go through rhythms of realizing that I need more consistent self care. I start seeing the damage it’s doing not to have it. And then I have to adjust. Kind of like a surfer moving through the waves. The surfer reads the waves and adjusts their board to the flow.

I’m over here working on that… adjusting to the flow of my waves. I’m just having a hard time reading what they’re telling me right now.

How are you all adjusting to your “waves” right now? How do you adjust your self care when you need to? And how do you determine whether to adjust or not? Would love to hear from you!

What it means to be free.

You know you’re a writer when you have written 2 school papers in the last 3 days… And you still find the time to churn out 2-3 pages of your memoir.

This week has been a little crazy. I finished finals last week and ended my semester with a 4.0. This week, I started a 2 week class. And promptly got sick, which was no surprise after pushing myself so hard this semester. But in the middle of my Nyquil and Sudafed induced haze, I’ve had a strangely pervasive sense of calm. This is despite being sleep deprived (really, how does that happen after taking Nyquil? Makes no sense).

A week ago, after my last exam, I also had an EMDR session with my therapist. Different ideas have been filtering in ever since, assimilating themselves into my experience of life. My class this week (Art, Politics, and War) has talked about how you look at images through different layers, different conceptions and ideologies you are surrounded with. I’ve been looking at my life through certain ideologies that are shifting.

Growing up, my life was so fantasy-driven that sometimes I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I was beginning to interpret events the fall before my sisters died. Talking to Rachel, my beautiful younger sister, helped me to understand the framework my life was held up by. She gave me a frame of reference for my crazy family; she validated my experiences. Because of her I was starting to see and believe that the world I’d grown up in was dysfunctional. 

Rachel:

Rachel - in Mexico

Then I freakishly lost her, and my twin Stephanie, on the same day. I simultaneously lost some of the frame of reference that I had for my family. Combined with that I had been indoctrinated with the idea that I shouldn’t ever tell anyone about what my family believed, because they would think we were crazy. I should be silent. Part of me believed that if I spoke up about what was really going on, I would be excommunicated, rejected, disowned.

But my perspective is shifting. The more I’ve talked about it, the more I’ve told people the ridiculousness of it all, the more I’ve started to see it from the outside. I’ve had a time of vomiting all the bad out of every cranny of my intestines. Figuratively, by my speech; but I feel it in my stomach, where I’ve always felt every emotion.

Last night, I finished up the paper I had due for my class today. And then I started to write. A writer friend suggested that I should be less vague in telling my story. So, I began writing some of the clear details of the year I was 15. And some of the clear details of other parts of my life. Despite how hazy and sick I was feeling, I could be clearly in those moments as if I was a spectator with a full understanding of the characters. And suddenly, while writing, I was outside of my life.

I was looking back on the little girl, wrapped up in a pretend world where my dad told us that we would someday be billionaires (unfortunately, I’m not kidding). I was looking back on a little girl who had to pretend to know manners when we went to 5 star restaurants, despite living in a tiny 3 bedroom apartment in a low income neighborhood. A girl who learned to use a knife and fork in the Continental method because it was more sophisticated. I was looking back on nightly conversations of how God was going to miraculously bring this Money into our lives. I was looking back on the girl who was trapped in a dark depression the summer her grandpa died, with no one to even notice how bad it really was. I was looking back on the pain I used to realize by cutting my shins with my razor. I was looking back on my obsession with a boy who was a writer like me. I looked back on the writing and how I used to pretend that as a writer I was so outside of society and no one could possibly understand me because I was an artist. How that idea helped me in some ways to cope with the true reality of my invisibility to my family. I looked back on the girl who asked a distant God every day to somehow save her from this life, to maybe give her dad this Money after all so she could escape the isolation. Since God apparently was going to give him this Money anyway. Even though it seemed like God cared a lot more about that than giving her a dad who could see her, God was the only reason she had to survive. And this was all before she watched her sisters die and got a divorce – 2 things that she never expected would happen.

And instead of feeling so immersed in all of those experiences that I couldn’t separate then and now, I had a new experience. I saw it as if I was an outsider.

Wow. What crazy ideas my dad had. What a strange little world we lived in. WOW! That life was mine!

The thought was extraordinarily validating. I blinked at it and chuckled to myself. Wow.

My EMDR therapist last week referenced Silver Linings Playbook. I was delighted because that movie had just given me a gift of understanding my dad’s world; the strange, OCD, magical thinking of the dad in that movie seemed so familiar. Watching it, I felt a sense of understanding for my dad that I had never had before. I said as much to my therapist. His response?

“You grew up with a mentally ill father.”

Looking back from the outside, I know it. I’m no longer connected to that pain, because it’s over. In that detached attachment, I embody compassion for my past life and feel a quiet acceptance of who I am now.

And here, now, in the very present, I am free. After living for most of my life trapped by visible and invisible walls and borders, that is so liberating to know.

Panic Switch

Ever have that moment where you react to something before taking enough space to really consider it? I have. In fact it happens quite often for me. Panic crawls up my throat and out of my mouth before I can stop it. And in the face of panic, I babble and become unclear.

There are few moments that make me feel so damn insecure as those ones. The most recent occurrence? This morning. The worst part? The occurrence involves a new job. JUST when I feel such pressure to perform, I have become a babbling idiot (at least, that’s how it looks to me)!

And to be honest, it’s more than insecurity that floods me. The past 24 hours have been a war against depression. The depression rammed into me as the thought appeared “Why is it that I try to rescue myself, and I run into obstacles?” Or, in super plain terms – “WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN TO ME???”

I couldn’t admit it publicly yesterday. Other insecurities wouldn’t allow it. I am not a charity case. I am not the girl who is always falling apart. I am not the depressed girl that needs attention. I fought against admission of depression because I so often use the admission to gain attention – to say, “Look at me! Help me! Pay attention to me before anyone else!”

But maybe I am depressed. Clinically. I’ve been wondering if I should go on meds. Partially because I see my mom, who appears to have untreated depression, and I want her to go on meds. And I don’t want to be like my mom who has lived with it for years.

In any case that’s another story. The one I’m telling you is, I sent an email back to my job (the THIRD email in a row… yikes) and gave them a well thought out answer. Sigh. They probably think I’m crazy, but I hope that doesn’t prevent them from changing their minds about me (why do I always feel like people will change their minds about me? yet another insecurity issue to address, I see). 

I was also grateful this morning to go off and volunteer and get out of my own head. I spent almost an hour with a lovely Iraqi woman, trying to converse in my terrible Arabic and her broken English. I am so grateful because it saved me from getting lost inside my own self-pity.

And slowly I am returning to mindfulness and clarity. Maybe I can gain the footing to stay in that space the next time I feel like reacting. The rest of this day will be spent trying to address the insecurity threatening my sanity.

Beyond Ideas

          Since the weekend after the Boston Marathon, I’ve been under a gray cloud. Not a dark one, full of lightning and thunder and ominous promises, but a gray one, like a persistent winter in the northwest where the sun just can’t push its way past. I would diagnose my feelings as “dysthymic”, which is a psychopathological word to say, I feel a consistent low-grade depression.

            “I confess that I have no philosophy, nor piety, nor patience, no art of reflection, no theory of comprehension to meet things so hideous, so cruel, and so mad, they are just unspeakably horrible and irremediable to me and I stare at them with angry and almost blighted eyes.” –Henry James

            This past weekend was bright and glorious with sun and warmth. On Saturday morning, I bared my deepest soul to a few wonderful, trusted friends. After the explosion had settled (really; it was like I’d vomited my story onto the floor in front of them), I went and had breakfast with those dear ones. And I went out and I hiked, just trying to pull a little of that sun out of the sky and down into my aching heart.

            I was walking through a little glade when it spoke to me. The voice rang out, clearly, piercing me straight to my soul. There was really little doubt that it was a message intended for me to hear. They perched up in trees near me, and came near and nearer, singing. The words were unintelligible, but the message was received. My heart opened up to it like a desert greedily swallows water in its sands.

            Had it not been for that message, my heart would have continued its slow shriveling. Even now I bring the sounds to mind, as a sort of fortification against disaster. I’ve heard it since I was a child; my mother always pointed out their particular song. Never, though, had it been so direct. Never had it contained a message.

            Am I meant to understand this message, with my human framework of thought? I imagine not; my Being heard the message, and resounded accordingly. Some things are beyond the world of thought and understanding. Some things must simply be received, with the realization that a deeper Knowledge is at work.

            How could it not be deeper Knowledge, with its way of carving hope in my heart like a stream through a canyon? Solid, unbending rock yielded to soft, persistent water. It clears my blighted eyes, soothes my despairing mind. My dysthymia is persistent, rigid. But these tender hands cannot be denied.

            Thank God, said I, with tears on my face. Thank God that in the terrible shades of evil in this world, messages like these persist. For who could bear to live without them?